Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Back to Brooklyn College with Julie and Jack

Recently Julie Cavanagh (and Jack) and I were invited by professor Charisa Kiyô Smith as GEMers to speak to a class at Brooklyn College that had watched our movie in class the week before.  She wanted us to talk about activism. She described the class, Children and The Law, this way:
90% of my students are either already paras or teacher's aides, or seek to go into teaching full time. They would like to learn about becoming more involved in combating some of the destructive politics around education in this city. My students are frustrated at the purported lack of resources for traditional public schools, as well as the over-vigilance on certain aspects of performance and testing...
This was back in November. (I started to write about it but never finished.) I guess I assumed after seeing our film and being connected to the schools they would be receptive to our anti-charter message. Boy was I wrong. We actually did not find a sense of this activism, but rather a pro-charter point of view.

I learned a hell of a lot in this return to my alma mata - twice over -- undergrad - BA History, 66 and MA computer science c. 87. (Actually, almost a 3rd degree if I had completed those 2 missing papers for my abandoned MA in history c. 68.)

I dug up a 25 year old Brooklyn College sweatshirt that I could still squeeze into for this occasion. It didn't seem to impress anyone.

The most vocal students - some were parents - were pro-charter and trashed their local public schools. Rather than merely defend a position critical of charters was non-public, privately managed entities feeding off public money we were able to engage in a rich discussion of the nuances of why we stand where we do while also supporting the choices they are making for their children. We made sure to point out that the deterioration in their local public school was intentional given the fact that the people running the system want to make privatized charters the favored choice.

We fully understand that if a local public school was truly awful we have no right to tell parents to go in and fight, especially since they have been so marginalized. But we did talk about the unregulated aspect of charters, their marginalizing certain children by counseling them out -- which to some of these parents was a good thing. My insight here was that when we tracked in public schools the less poor of the poor and more highly motivated had a ready made sorting mechanism and were able to get their kids into the top classes and thus segregated from the worst trouble makers.

Under Tweed, they supposedly ended tracking which mixed classes but also has driven these former top class parents right into the arms of charters, which has become the new sorting mechanism, replacing the top class.

I know we talk about how charters often don't allow PTAs and also marginalize parents but I've been witness to how public school principals often do the same, and in fact often control the PTAs to their benefit. (I knew of many PTA presidents in poor communities who ended up with jobs for themselves or family members in the good old days of local patronage --- of course under Bloomberg the corruption is at a much higher level.)

What we said, and this seemed to resonate, was that in the long run, the attack is on the very concept of a neighborhood school and that at some point there would be mostly charters of one or more large chains controlled by outsiders offering little choice.

I came across this Nancy Flanagan tweet that touches on how choice eventually equals less choice:

Irony of “school choice movement:” parents get far less “choice” than promised, many struggle to even find a school.
This was not an easy concept to get across in the limited time we spent answering questions though we tried to point to New Orleans as a model of charterizing/privatizing turning into less choice.

But we found this mini-debate extremely clarifying for us and how we need to refine our message.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This seems to be the trend in many colleges--they seem to be pro-charter.

But what you have failed to realize is that these people already work in the school system, so they see the same things that turn me off as a teacher, and sometimes it's other teachers.

This is when you should be discussing different kinds of eval systems like PAR. And of course teaching to the test. Those parents that liked the fact that kids who cannot read are being counseled out should have been confronted. After all they are all planning to be teachers and their jobs should be helping these students, and most likely will be teaching in the public school system.

I know some people who tell me their local schools are horrible and dangerous. I wish teachers would be more pro-active in getting parents involved in trying to change the system.